If visions of December afternoons, spent in the cozy warmth of the kitchen, turning out picture perfect Christmas cookies, dance in your head, then it's time to fire up the oven.
But if the reality is somewhere between buying a slice-and-bake log from the supermarket or ordering a cookie platter from the local bakery, consider another option. There is a way to finish up the holiday dinner with a selection of decorated, homemade cookies — or bring a batch to a cookie exchange — and not do a lick of work.
Look for the answer at a cookie sale at the holiday craft fairs at area churches. Volunteers bake dozens of cookies of their choice, using their favorite recipes in their home kitchens. Sometimes, the bakers work in groups to decorate cut-out cookies. On the day of the sale, organizers open their doors and dole out a bakery box and a disposable glove to the shoppers, letting them pick and choose among the varieties. Some groups choose to dispense with the self-service and sell platters prepared with a variety of cookies.
Over the next two weekends, at least three of these sales will take place in the state: this weekend at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in East Haddam and at Flagg Road United Church of Christ in West Hartford; and Dec. 15 at St. Mark the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in Westbrook. (For details on the sales, see below.)
Last year, the variety ran "the whole spectrum," says Kay Kearns, an organizer of the sale at St. Mark's church. "We had some that were quite simple, and some that were elaborate. We were able to make up a nice variety on the platters." The committee opted to make platters of cookies — 2-1/2 dozen cookies on each of about 130 plates — rather than go the self-service route. "We thought that pre-packing was a better idea. People could just pick up a platter."
At the Flagg Road and St. Stephen's sales, buyers pick and choose among the varieties. "We put out plates of different kinds of cookies, and give out plastic gloves and boxes," says Susanne Morrill of the Flagg Road church. "It's pick your own."
Although the cookie sales are relatively new to these three churches, the demand is great.
"Last year, we had a pleasant surprise: There was a line of people at the door" waiting for the sale to begin, says Anne DiFiglia who, with Cindy DiNino and Gerry Piccola, heads up the committee at East Haddam's St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Although DiFiglia estimates that bakers had donated 6,000 to 7,000 cookies, the supply was sold out by 2 p.m., two hours before the sale was scheduled to end. "None of us workers got any cookies," DiFiglia remembers.
The mostly female bakers donate their time, ingredients and baking skills to raise money for church projects such as Sunday school and local charities. At St. Mark's Church, proceeds will help to finish and landscape the church's labyrinth, a Garden Group project. The outdoor labyrinth, funded by money raised by church members and a grant from the Westbrook Foundation, is on the grounds of the McVeagh Road church.
"We wanted it to be open to the public, for them to come and have a quiet place to meditate," says Judy Gallicchio, one of the Garden Group members who suggested the project, which is handicapped-accessible.
Organizing fundraising events brings church members together to work toward a common goal. Morrill jokes that the volunteers don't even want to think about cookies once the sale is over, but a year goes by and they are ready to work again. "It's fellowship for us," she says.
Where And When
The cookie sale at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, 33 Main St. (Route 149), East Haddam, will take place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Cookies are $6 a pound. Copies of "St. Stephen's Cookie Cookbook" also will be for sale.
The cookie sale at the Flagg Road United Church of Christ, 134 Flagg Road, West Hartford, will take place Friday, 3 to 6 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Sunday, 11 a.m. to noon. Cookies are $7 a pound.
St. Mark the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 222 McVeagh Road, Westbrook, will take place Dec. 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The new "Cookie Jar Favorites" cookbook will be for sale. Each platter of 2-1/2-dozen cookies is $10. There also will be a raffle of two food baskets, one donated by Bennie's Farm Market in Centerbrook and the other by a member of the Garden Group, and a floral arrangement from Shaw's Supermarket.
Bakers for the cookie sales mentioned in this story shared these recipes.
PISTACHIO-CHERRY MEXICAN WEDDING CAKES
• 4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
•1 cup powdered sugar plus more for coating
•2 tablespoons vanilla extract
•1 teaspoon salt
•1 cup shelled unsalted natural pistachios, chopped
•1 cup dried cherries ( or cranberries)
•3-1/2 cups sifted cake flour
•1-2/3 cups sifted all purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 3 large baking sheets. Using an electric mixer, beat butter and 1 cup of powdered sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla and salt, then pistachios and cherries (or cranberries). Using a spatula, stir in all flour; do not over mix. Shape dough by generous tablespoons into football-shaped ovals. Place on prepared sheets spacing 1-inch apart. Bake cookies one sheet at a time until bottoms just color, about l6 minutes. Cool cookies on the sheets for 10 minutes before coating.
Pour generous amount of powdered sugar into a medium bowl. Working with 5 or 6 warm cookies at a time, add cookies to bowl of sugar; gently turn to coat thickly. Transfer cookies to sheet of waxed paper. Repeat and cool completely.
Can be made four days ahead. Store in air-tight container at room temperature or freeze.
— Linda Canterbury, St. Stephen Church
• 1-1/4 cups quick oats
•1-1/4 cups flour
•1/2 cup packed brown sugar
•1 teaspoon baking powder
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•1-3/4 sticks margarine, melted
•1 cup raspberry jam or preserves
•1/2 cup white chocolate chips
•1/2 cup toasted chopped almonds or walnuts
Combine oats, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in melted margarine. Reserve 1 cup of mixture. Spread the remaining mixture into an 8-by-8-inch pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and spread jam over the crust. Sprinkle with chocolate chips, nuts and reserved mixture. Bake 30 to 35 minutes until golden. Cool and cut into squares.
Note: Recipe can be doubled and baked in a 9-by-13-inch pan.
— From Ann Marie Stawarky, St. Mark the Evangelist Church
• 3/4 cup butter, softened
•3/4 cup sugar
•1 egg yolk
•1 teaspoon vanilla extract
•2 cups all-purpose flour
•1/2 teaspoon baking powder
•1/2 teaspoon salt
•1/2 teaspoon peppermint extract
•1/4 teaspoon red liquid food coloring
In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugar. Beat in egg yolk and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well. Divide dough in half; add extract and food coloring to one portion, mixing well to produce a uniform color.
On a work surface, roll out each portion of dough between waxed paper into a 16-by-10-inch rectangle. Remove waxed paper from the top of each portion of dough. Place red rectangle over plain rectangle; remove wax paper from red rectangle. Roll up tightly the dough, jelly-roll style, starting with a long side. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight until firm.
Unwrap the dough and cut into 1/4-inch slices. Place 2 inches apart on lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 14 minutes or until set. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely,
— From Kay Kearns, St. Mark the Evangelist Church
ORGANIC CHRISTMAS BREAKFAST COOKIES
• 2 sticks butter
•1-1/4 cups brown sugar
•1/4 cup granulated sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla
•1 cup flour
•1 teaspoon baking soda
•1/2 teaspoon sea salt
•2-3 cups uncooked oats (quick or old-fashioned)
•2 cups favorite trail mix or 1 cup dried cranberries and 1 cup chopped nuts
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture. Stir in oats and trail mix. (The amount of oats you use will be determined by the type of trail mix. A chunky trail mix will require fewer oats. More oats will produce a thicker cookie; fewer oats will produce a cookie that spreads more during baking.)
Drop rounded tablespoons on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 minutes or until golden brown. Cool a minute or so on the cookie sheet (too long and they'll stick), then remove to a wire rack. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.
— From Mickey Lawler, Flagg Road United Church of Christ
Find more cookie recipes at www.courant.com/cookies.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times